I cannot think of a better way to begin this blog than by quoting directly from the book "Time and Again" by Jack Finney (published 1970). This sums up my feelings perfectly.
Because I've always felt a wonder at old photographs not easy to explain. Maybe I don't need to explain; maybe you'll recognize what I mean. I mean the sense of wonder, staring at the strange clothes and vanished backgrounds, at knowing that what you're seeing was once real. That light really did reflect into a lens from these lost faces and objects. That these people were really there once, smiling into a camera. You could have walked into the scene then, touched those people, and spoken to them. You could actually have gone into that strange outmoded old building and seen what now you never can - what was just inside the door.
The wonder is even stronger with old stereoscopic views - the almost, but not quite, identical pair of photographs mounted side by side on stiff cardboard, that, looked at through the viewer, give a miraculous effect of depth. It's never been a mystery to me why the whole country was once crazy about them. Because the good ones, the really clear sharp photographs, are so real: Insert a view, slide it into focus, and the old scene leaps out at you, astonishingly three-dimensional. And then, for me, the awe becomes intense. Because now you really see the arrested moment, so actual it seems that if you watch intently, the life caught here must continue. That the raised horse's hoof so startlingly distinct in the foreground must move down to the solidness of pavement below it again; those carriage wheels revolve, the girl walk closer, the man move on out of the scene. The feeling that the tantalizing reality of the vanished moment might somehow be seized - that if you watch long enough you might detect that first nearly imperceptible movement - is the answer to the question Kate has asked me more than once: "How can you sit there so long--you hardly move! - staring endlessly at the very same picture?"
The picture above is one frame of a stereoscopic image entitled "The Haunted Lovers" published by the Littleton View Co in 1893. I wonder what people really thought of the image back then, did they believe it was an amazing photograph of an apparition, or did they understand it was a clever double exposure?
Was this photographer also the inventor of cinematography?
Click to enlarge
Here is a quote from Wikipedia regarding the photographer of this image of two English Victorian ladies: "William Friese-Greene (September 7, 1855 – May 5, 1921) (born William Edward Green) was a British portrait photographer and prolific inventor. He is principally known as a pioneer in the field of motion pictures and is credited by some as the inventor of cinematography." Link to the Wikipedia page.
I have a small collection of Friese-Greene photographs which I will be adding to this blog over the coming months. The original unframed CDV is shown below.
This photograph has a postcard back and was purchased with several others of the New Zealand Shipping Company's "Remuera". I believe it was taken between 1911 and 1915 because I have other photographs which are similar in appearance that are dated 1914.
Click to enlarge
I would really like to know what readers of this blog think about the man on the left, with his hand up on the wall. Is he wearing a uniform of some kind? Could it be the uniform that a barber working for the New Zealand Shipping Company would wear? If so, then there is a very slight chance that the man is Henry George Keyse . . . this, of course, is a wild shot in the dark! But stranger things have happened, and I just have a feeling about him.
Henry Keyse was regularly on the Remuera where he was paid a retainer by the Shipping Company. He made his living cutting hair and also by selling souvenirs to passengers. He was, I believe, an amateur photographer, selling many of his photographs as postcards for the passengers to use. His photographic postcards show views of Icebergs at sea (1914), of the Panama Canal (after 1916) and also of Pitcairn Island and the Islanders. Many of his photographs have a hand written caption on the lower front of the card together with his initials "HGK". These postcards fetch high prices on eBay; anything from £15 to £90 or more.
This Cabinet photograph shows the New Zealand Shipping Company's RMS Ruahine. The ship was built by Wm. Denny & Bros, Dumbarton, and launched in 1891. In 1900 she was sold to Compagnia Trasatlantica, Bilbao, Spain and renamed Antonio Lopez. This photograph, therefore, must have been taken between 1891 and 1900. Further information can be found here.
The scan above is taken from a CDV (carte de visite) by Francis Frith, showing Lands End in Cornwall, UK. Written in pen on the back of the photo is the date 25th August 1875. I particularly like the soft focus effect of the sea which was presumably caused by a long exposure. This is an effect which I have seen recreated in several modern photographs, and it is much more tricky to achieve today.
More early photographs of Lands End can be viewed on the Francis Frith website by clicking here.
Here's an interesting group of eight men. I've no idea who any of them are or when the photograph was taken! I bought it on eBay as an interesting looking "Tintype".
The following is taken from Wikipedia: "Tintype is a photograph made by creating a direct positive on a sheet of iron metal that is blackened by painting, laquering or enamelling and is used as a support for a collodion photographic emulsion. Photographers usually worked outside at fairs, carnivals etc. and as the support of the tintype (there is no actual tin used) is resilient and does not need drying, instant photographs can be produced only a few minutes after taking the photograph."
Click to enlarge
The original (which is much darker than the scan shown here) is actually only 6 cm wide.